Lung cancer: the facts

It is well known that smoking cigarettes affects health in many ways and dramatically decreases life expectancy. Lung cancer is a major health issue and thousands of smokers in Canada are exposing themselves to it by smoking.


Lung cancer is a type of cancer that develops in lung cells. The latter begin to proliferate abnormally and uncontrollably, which causes a tumor. The presence of lung damage will cause many symptoms to the person affected.

There are cancers that come from other parts of the body, but that spread to the lungs. In these cases, it is not lung cancer itself, but rather a metastasis.

There are two main types of lung cancer:

  • Small cell lung cancer  : the most severe form that develops rapidly.
  • Non-small cell lung cancer  : the most common form, it is less aggressive than small cells.


In Canada, lung cancer is the second most common cancer, causing casualties every day. It is the cancer responsible for the largest number of deaths in the country. It is estimated that about 26,000 Canadians are diagnosed with lung cancer each year and about 20,000 will die of it, which is about two deaths per hour.

According to data from 2006 to 2008, 20 out of every 100 women would still be alive 5 years after the date of the lung cancer diagnosis, while the number of men would be 14 out of 100.

In humans, the rate of lung cancer is decreasing. On the other hand, among women, this figure continues to increase.


The tobacco remains the leading cause of lung cancer, linked to more than 85% of cases. The cigarette is pointed at, but other types of tobacco products (pipe, cigar, etc.) are also considered dangerous.

In non-smokers, second-hand smoke is an important cause of lung cancer.

Second-hand smoke is the smoke released into the air from tobacco by the person who smokes. It causes more than 360 lung cancer deaths each year in Canada. This smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, many of which are harmful to health. These substances can cause not only lung cancer, but other diseases, such as asthma, sudden infant death, cardiovascular disease and other types of cancer.

Radon exposure is also an important risk factor for lung cancer. It is a gas that can be present in harmful amounts in homes or buildings. It is the leading cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers.

Other causes of lung cancer include exposure to chemicals at work, asbestos, previous occurrence of lung cancer in a family member, having ever had lung cancer, air pollution, lung diseases, arsenic, exposure to radiation, lupus, etc.


A regular visit to your doctor can check your health and act quickly if a problem is present.

The following symptoms may suggest the possible presence of lung cancer. Consult your doctor if you have one or more of the following symptoms (non-exhaustive list):

  • weightloss;
  • loss of appetite;
  • persistent cough;
  • unexplained fatigue;
  • chest pain;
  • severe shoulder pain;
  • hoarse voice;
  • sputum with blood;
  • shortness of breath;
  • difficulty swallowing;
  • bone pain;
  • jaundice.


There are treatments for lung cancer. They are most effective when started in the early stages of the disease. The main treatments are: chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery.

Chemotherapy involves attacking the cancer cells by administering drugs, while radiation therapy targets the cancer tissue by means of radiation.

The part of the lung with cancer can be removed by surgery as well; this is a commonly used treatment mode.

Depending on the type of lung cancer, level of impairment and patient preference, the medical team will develop an individualized treatment plan. Often, this plan combines more than one type of treatment.


Measures can be taken to reduce our risk of developing lung cancer. Here are the main ones:

  • No smoking
  • Avoid second-hand smoke
  • Make sure radon levels in your home (and work) are acceptable
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle (healthy diet and regular physical activity)
  • Avoid exposing yourself to harmful substances that can cause cancer (carcinogens)

No measure is more effective than stopping smoking to prevent the development of lung cancer. If you are a smoker, do not wait until it’s too late. Consult your pharmacist who can help you establish an effective action plan for permanent cessation. Being accompanied by a competent health professional, such as your pharmacist, and using smoking cessation help increases your chances of success. Add years to your life, and life to your years!